Coach: Gardner Howard, first year
Last Year: 1-9 (0-6, TCAL)
Forecast: Waite was once known as the gridiron pride of Ohio — "The Purple Hurricanes" — winning state championships and even one national championship.
Of course, most of that happened prior to and immediately after World War II. One year, Waite defeated Miami Senior (Fla.) in a mythical national championship, and the team visited the White House to celebrate. Several mythical state championship games were played at Ohio Stadium in Columbus.
That doesn't mean that new coach Gardner Howard hasn't set his goals at restoring the pride behind nearly a century of football at Waite. Howard replaces long-time area coach John "J.J." Johnson — who in decades of coaching had considerable success as a head coach at Macomber and as an assistant at St. Francis DeSales.
Howard makes his debut at Waite after his first year of head coaching at Scott in 2008, and the Indians are hoping the former Bowling Green State University standout can breathe new life into a City League program now starved for success.
A decent crop of 10 returning starters, including four on the offensive line and senior quarterback Mike Thanasiu (6-2, 190) should make for a quality building block in Howard’s newly employed spread offense. Thanasiu replaces the graduated Joey Imm, who threw for 744 yards last year and five touchdowns.
Waite's line will be anchored by senior offensive tackle Kenwyn Crawford (6-2, 285), a second-team All-City selection last fall. Junior center Alex Ramirez (6-1, 225) returns to deliver snaps into Thanasiu’s hands, and both guards are back with junior Garry Cummings (6-0, 215) manning the right slot and senior Anthony "A.J." Singer (6-1, 230) lining up on the left.
A pair of first-time varsity starting tailbacks will flank Thanasiu in the backfield. Sophomore Kevin Carter (5-7, 155) and senior Antonio Spears (5-6, 160) are expected to put some ground game options into the spread mix. Last year, Spears averaged eight yards per carry and two touchdowns while rushing for 183 yards on 23 carries.
Howard said the Indians will employ three and four-receiver sets. Sophomore De'Vonte Hughes (6-0, 148) is one of the pass catchers to keep an eye on, although Thanaisu will work to spread the ball around frequently to keep opposing defenses honest.
Four starters return on the defensive side of the ball, including Cummings, who brings back experience at linebacker.
Senior outside linebacker Miguel Garcia (5-11, 225), junior defensive end Antoine Jackson (6-3, 225) and senior defensive tackle Luke Murphy (6-7, 225) should form a solid nucleus of experience for Howard, who will take the Indians out of the 5-2 into 4-4 and 4-3 packages. Murphy will also slot in at tight end on the offensive front.
“There’s going to be some ups and downs as the kids learn a new system,” said Howard, “but the key is establishing a winning attitude and the expectation has to change.”
While Howard said the lack of overall experience and the current lack of a winning tradition are definitely obstacles, his staff and the Indians roster must overcome if Waite is to quickly erase memories of a winless 2008 CL slate. He said the parts are in place to put together a better mark in 2009.
“We’re young, athletic and there is already good team chemistry,” Howard claimed. “They’re doing a good job of bonding together.
“It’s not going to be easy, but you’ve got to learn to win. I expect my players to compete hard, play hard and continually get better as the season moves along.”
Waite begins non-league play against long-time Maumee coach and former Genoa coach John Bole's Panthers. Then in week two, Sylvania Northview arrives at Mollenkopf Stadium, and Perrysburg arrives in East Toledo the third week.
In league action, Waite has five games against Toledo public schools and a contest October 23 against St. John's Jesuit, the only parochial school on the schedule. That schedule should help put the Indians in position at get as many or more wins as a year ago. The highlight of the schedule is the Oil Barrel Trophy contest at Mollenkopf Stadium against east side rival Clay on September 18.